Debby weakens to tropical depression

Flooding rains from slow-moving system should last one more day

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Hamilton County road washed out by rushing water on Tuesday.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Debby weakened to a tropical depression but threats of flooding still remain for parts of Florida.

After two days as a rainmaker stuck in the Gulf, Tropical Storm Debby sloshes ashore near Steinhatchee at 5 p.m. Tuesday and was expected pick up speed as it moves over north Florida over the next 24 hours.

As of 11 p.m. Tuesday, Debby was about 20 miles east-southeast of Cedar Key -- or about 110 miles west of Daytona Beach. It was moving southeast at 7 mph and had maximum sustained winds of 35 mph with higher gusts.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Debby was expected to turn to the east late Tuesday, and then turn toward the east-northeast with an increase in forward speed on Wednesday.

Debby could be above the Atlantic Ocean by Wednesday afternoon, forecasters said.

"Because she has accelerated, you will be amazed how quickly our weather improves over the next couple of days," Channel 4 chief meteorologist John Gaughan said.

Still, the storm made its presence felt, bringing driving rains that caused flooding in low-lying areas across hundreds of miles of north Florida and the Gulf Coast.

Standing water kept portions of Interstate 10 and dozens of surface roads closed Tuesday and normally placid creeks have overflowed their banks. There is a voluntary evacuation in Clay County for residents along the north prong of the Black Creek and along the St. Marys River in Baker and Nassau counties.

The official reporting station at Jacksonville International has recorded 12 inches in the past 48 hours, and some isolated areas west and north of town have seen more than 20 inches of rain.

Gaughan called it historical rainfall along the I-10 corridor, and another 2 to 5 inches of rain was expected and the winds will increase to 20 mph as storm nears.

"The widespread flooding is the biggest concern," said Florida Emergency Operations Center spokeswoman Julie Roberts. "It's a concern that Debby is going to be around for the next couple of days."

A tropical storm warning remained in effect early Tuesday for about 450 miles of coastline, from Mexico Beach in the Panhandle to Englewood, south of Sarasota. Debby is expected to make landfall Wednesday night.

Gov. Rick Scott declared a statewide emergency, allowing authorities to put laws against price-gouging into effect and override bureaucratic hurdles to deal with the storm.

Debby made  landfall just north of Cedar Key in Levy County.  People in the coastal town were checking their waterfront businesses to make sure the Gulf of Mexico doesn't come right through the windows.

Just last week, Cedar Key residents were dealing with a drought that had shut down the city's water supply, leaving residents to rely on bottled water and tanks set up by the city.

The wind and rain damaged roughed up neighborhoods and pulled down trees in Winter Garden.

At least one person was killed Sunday by a tornado spun off by Debby in Florida, and Alabama authorities searched for a man who disappeared in the rough surf.

The heavy rain fall is being blamed for creating several sinkholes in Marion County. The largest is in the Fore Ranch community in Ocala. The big hole is almost 100 feet long and 40 feet wide.

Some people who live in a nearby condo had to leave their homes while crews used heavy equipment to fill in the sinkhole.

In Volusia County, Debby caused some minor damage.

The storm knocked down a 100-year-old tree in a Daytona Beach neighborhood on South Palmetto Avenue.

The rains have quenched north Florida's wildfires. There are none actively burning.

Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.